Daily WTF: Maligning a Civil Rights Leader to Make an Old White Guy Look Better

John Lewis/Bernie Sanders, photo taken from http://www.jetmag.com/news/john-lewis-bernie-sanders/#.VsUPN1Khn4o

The Situation: Approximately a week ago, Representative John Lewis of Georgia endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, saying, “I believe truly that there’s no one else better prepared to be President of the United States of America than Hillary Clinton.” In that same press conference, someone asked him about Bernie Sanders’ record as a Civil Rights activist, to which Representative Sanders responded, “I’ve never met him.” Since then, numerous people have given Representative Lewis flack for his statement, some even going so far as to say they no longer respect him. They are outraged at what they see as a “smear” against Sanders and accuse Representative Lewis of being corrupt, out for political gain, and, as always, a member of the “establishment.”

The Reaction: Representative Lewis was one of the founders of the Civil Rights movement and quite possibly has the strongest Civil Rights activism record of any living human being. He worked to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, was one of the first Freedom Riders, was severely beaten by mobs, was arrested and humiliated multiple times, spoke at the Washington Monument, personally knew Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and organized voting rights and voting education movements. It is through his direct action that African-Americans – all people of color, really – enjoy the rights that they do today. Without him, this country would be a lot worse.

It is thus the ultimate example of white privilege to attempt to malign him in favor of Bernie Sanders. Yes, Sanders participated in sit-ins in Chicago; yes, he was arrested for his activism; and, yes, he wrote a few scathing newspaper articles, but he was not in the south. He was not with Representative Lewis. And Representative Lewis to perfectly right to endorse any candidate he chooses and to point out that, despite the work Sanders and his supporters claimed he did, he never met with Representative Lewis.

Does that mean Sanders doesn’t care about Civil Rights? No. Does it mean he didn’t participate in Civil Rights activism in the 60s? No. Then, should we ignore Representative Lewis’ courageous work and lose all faith in him? Should we accuse him of corruption? Should we shout him down in order to shout Sanders up?

No.

You can disagree with Representative Lewis’ endorsement. You can even claim that he’s out of touch with young black people. But do not erase the profound impact he had on this country. Do not disparage the work he very nearly gave his life for. Show some respect. Educate yourself. And check your damn privilege.

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